If you’d like to glimpse the inside story of one aspect of the mission of Grand Coulee Dam, this is a good video.
The dam was originally conceived to provide irrigation to more than a million acres of potential farmland in the Columbia basin, but these days most people think of it as a huge electricity producer.
It is that, but this video, produced by the Bureau of Reclamation as a tool to help potential recruits, also provides a good overview of the basics with some spectacular footage. Watching it will help you appreciate what you see when you visit in person.
Grand Coulee Dam is the largest electrical production facility of any kind, in terms of capacity, in North America. But it doesn’t just happen magically. These folks make it happen. Watch:
For several weeks, a powerful flow of water has been pounding the river below the dam, rushing from one outlet tube in the dam.
It causes a very slight vibration in my nearby home, so that the door between the kitchen and garage emits a high-pitched squeak. I can’t feel it or otherwise detect the vibration, but when I hear that squeak, I know that if I walk out my front door I’ll see that gigantic, thundering water spout.
So how big is it that water spout?
Flow records indicate there’s about 3.9 kcfs shooting out of that tube. That’s 3,900 cubic feet per second, or 29,000 gallons. Every second.
Water weighs something like 8 pounds per gallon, depending on the temperature, so that comes out to 232,000 pounds per second of water, under pressure, pounding the river 150 feet (guessing) below.
That’s impressive, but when you consider the total flow of the river is right now about 160 kcfs you’re only looking at about 2 percent of the river squeezing through that tube. The rest is making power through the generators.
The funny thing is that just watching 2/100ths of the river make an impressive show of power helps me appreciate the tremendous energy of the river tapped by the dam and sent out into the nation.
The Grand Coulee Dam Visitor Center is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The bottle-cap-shaped building below the dam offers new exhibits designed to entertain and educate with interactive features, such as the jackhammer above. A video game lets you fly right through the dam to explore its features. Hands-on generators let you light up a miniature grid, and you can see the workings of the hydropower units.
One activity needs three to five people (perfect for a family) who sit at a table and listen to the concerns (via prerecorded video) of the many and varied people with interests affected by how the Columbia River is operated. As each player votes on various decisions, the overall plan changes and you’ll find out what your preferences did to the other parties’ interests.
It’s a great Visitor Center with knowledgeable interpreters, plus frequent movies in an upstairs theater to explain history and functions of this multipurpose dam.